09 August, 2010

Game Journal: Cryostasis

written by Blain Newport on Monday, 9 August, 2010


Cryostasis is a bad game I'm enjoying.

Here is a picture of frozen boxes.

Here is a picture of you inside a frozen box, looking at the same decorations you've seen a million times before, which are basically frozen boxes.

When I first played the demo for Cryostasis, I thought I'd never play the game. It was a pain, and there wasn't enough payoff for how annoying it was. That's partly because the demo was from later in the game and threw you in with no learning curve. It's also because the demo was some of the least interesting bits of the game.

But it's also because I've taken to only playing the game for a checkpoint or two at a time. The scares are scarier if I don't get used to their pattern. And I don't mind the occasional cheap deaths because there's only two or three per session.

And last, but certainly not least, I've completely changed the character of the game. It's supposed to just be scary and bleak. You're inside this frozen ship full of monsters. Even when you're saving crew members' lives by going into their past and taking control of their actions, victory just means a body disappears. It's hollow.

So I fixed it. Every time I go into someone's past I hit the play button on my multimedia keyboard. It starts a song. It starts this song.

("You" by VAST from the album Video Audio Sensory Theater)

As my viewpoint enters the crewman in a shower of sparks, the sparse synthetic sounds tell me I'm embarking on a strange, personal journey. Can you hear it?

As I learn what it was that killed that crewman, the chorus begins to sing, gently urging me forward. Listen to it.

As I'm learning what killed him, dying and re-entering his past, the singer is spouting random stuff I don't care about. The song doesn't really fit that well. :)

But by the time I'm figuring it out and saving the crewman, the singer is singing about leaving and love, which is what happens every time you save someone in their past. They just disappear. It's not at all clear if they survive or if they have any idea of what you did for them. But you saved them, and with the song playing and the chorus singing, that's what it feels like.

The game made a puzzle. I made it feel worthwhile to solve it.

This is part of why I still love the PC as a platform. From gameplay mods and hacks (the only way I finished Far Cry and other games) to simple ambiance changes like this, the PC will always give me the most options.

But how do I review a game when my experience is so different from what you'll have?

I don't. I just write a journal and tell you what I enjoyed or didn't, even if it wasn't part of the game. I don't have to give scores. I don't have to rush to be current. I just have to have interesting experiences and share them.

Because you can't
Take anything with you

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